I find it super encouraging to read biblical accounts of folks who are as flawed as me. Women, men, siblings, parents, children, religious leaders, bosses—the Bible gives us relational models which speak to our lives. Today I’m focusing on 1 Samuel 1.
Elikanah the Ephraimite was a devote man with two wives, Peninnah and Hannah. Every year he traveled to the tabernacle at Shiloh to offer sacrifices to the Lord and ask God’s blessing upon his family. During the festival, he gave generous portions of meat to Peninnah and her children, but he always gave a double portion to Hannah “because he loved her, and the Lord had closed her womb.”
Peninnah knew Hannah was the favorite and intentionally provoked her, bringing Hannah to tears. The insults were especially hard to endure when they went up to the house of the Lord. Hannah wept so hard she couldn’t eat. Worried, Hannah’s husband begged her to focus on his love rather than her despair over being childless.
One day enough was enough. Hannah’s bitterness consumed her heart and mind. Standing outside the tabernacle, she negotiated with God.
‘O Lord Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.’ (1 Sam 1:11)
A priest named Eli watched this woman for a while. She stood transfixed, eyes closed, mouth moving but no sound coming out. Apparently this was very peculiar behavior because he concluded she was drunk and told her to sober up! When Hannah explained she was praying to God out of deep anguish and grief, Eli blessed her and asked God to grant her petition. Receiving comfort and hope, Hannah’s spirit was renewed. “In the course of time,” the Lord “remembered” Hannah’s prayer and she gave birth to a son she named Samuel saying, “Because I asked the Lord for him.”
Once Samuel was weaned, the family once again made a trip to Shiloh to sacrifice. With Elikanah’s blessing, Hannah kept her vow and presented her beloved son to Eli as a dedication to God. 1 Samuel 2 chronicles Hannah’s prayer as she handed her son to the Lord.
My heart rejoices in the Lord; in the Lord my horn is lifted high. My mouth boasts over my enemies, for I delight in your deliverance…The Lord brings death and makes alive; he bring down to the grave and raises up. The Lord sends poverty and wealth, he humbles and he exalts. He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap…It is not by strength that one prevails; those who oppose the Lord will be shattered. 1 Sam 2:1-10
Sit in the shoes of each of these folks and you will experience their strengths and weaknesses. Despite being a man of faith, Elikanah showed favor to one wife over the other. Hurt and angry with her husband, Peninnah responded by scapegoating Hannah, knowing exactly what buttons to cruelly push. Bitterness grew in Hannah’s heart, eventually pushing her to bargain with God. Eli made inaccurate, incorrect assumptions rather than relationally moving towards Hannah to find out what she needed.
Do you find yourself in these flawed folks? The good news is God offered each person an opportunity to grow and mature. I like to hope Elikanah took ownership of his part in the marital issues and intentionally worked on his relationship with Peninnah. Hopefully her heart and attitude softened toward Hannah, promoting peace and harmony at home. We see how Eli allowed God to speak to his heart about making hasty judgments. Doing so resulted in compassion for Hannah’s sorrow and his words brought comfort and hope back to her soul.
Personally, I’m highly inspired and encouraged by Hannah’s transformation, as evidenced in her prayer in 1 Samuel 2. Like many folks, she lived with constant disappointment and hardship. As a Christian counselor, I don’t have a “why” answer. Why did God close Hannah’s womb? Why did he allow Peninnah to be so hurtful? Why doesn’t God step in and miraculously heal and protect those I love? Enduring these questions everyday can eventually wear folks down, bringing resentment and bitterness.
Many of us try to bargain with God and if that doesn’t seem to get results, we close ourselves off relationally and become cynical or stoic. Using human logic, Hannah had every reason to feel abandoned by God and renig on her “foxhole” vow. Yet her powerful prayer shows a heart of gratitude and thankfulness. Hannah confidently testifies to God’s heart of love for her, her son, and her people. She still lives in a fallen world, but she now knows in her soul how God is always with and for her no matter the circumstances. Looking at life through God’s heart gives us everything we need to persevere in faith and hope.
I was very blessed to visit Shiloh several years ago. The photo above is taken in the cave identified as the home of Eli and Samuel. Standing at the site of the original Tabernacle, I felt God’s manifest presence. I challenge you to adopt a relational view of reading the Bible. Put yourself in the shoes of all the flawed folks. Connect with their weaknesses and immature behaviors. Bring all your “why” questions directly to God. Allow these accounts to be a catalyst for growth in your own life.
Judy Lair, LPCC